The re-emergence of Battersea Arts Centre as a live music destination after a near forty-year hiatus is an occasion deserving of fanfare, and Hackney Colliery Band certainly provided that. Powered by a battery of brass so forceful it must surely have broken licensing laws, HCB put on a raucous show that could not be contained by the venue’s Council Chamber, overflowing into the lobby for the finale.
Hackney Colliery Band are the type of brass band that eschew epaulettes and overtures in favour of ripped jeans and New-Orleans inspired covers of pop classics. It is a template that was forged stateside by the likes of Young Blood Brass Band, but the formula is fast becoming ubiquitous. So much so that HCB’s promotional material clarifies that they are “not just another party brass band blowing through the usual pop covers”.
Their range of material is certainly more adventurous than the average. A cover of Three Trapped Tigers’ ‘Cramm’ is fierce and frenetic. The piece’s proggy keyboard runs are transplanted to effects-laden trumpets and saxes, with exhilarating if unwieldy results, the arrangement at times sounding like a bagpiper recreating a Van Halen guitar solo. Original material from the band’s new album Sharpener also stands out. ‘Gather Your Wits’ begins with something akin to a sousaphone séance, with spoken invocations issuing from the horn that build into phat bass notes.
Despite the nod in their name to the traditional roots of the brass band, HCB are firmly more ‘In Da Club’ than Working Men’s Club. It is an approach that makes for a wild time, but that could benefit from incorporating more of the sweetness and melancholy of a traditional colliery band, so as to provide a counterpoint that would make the highs seem higher still by contrast.
HCB are joined for their penultimate number – a rendition of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ – by support act and fellow brass band BYOB (Bring Your Own Brass). With sixteen horns presenting the audience with more piping than the Centre Pompidou, any doubts were blasted away. HCB played their final number – Toto’s ‘Africa’ – amidst the crowd, with trumpeter Steve Pretty leading the audience pied piper-like out of the Council Chamber and into the Arts Centre. The elated attendees were left in no doubt that music is back on the agenda in Battersea and with HCB’s set only the first in the Borderless gig series, there will be plenty more excitement to come.
The Borderless series is ongoing and excellent (until 29 September 2016).